Tag Archives: Top 10 lists

Beetle Mania!

With the arrival of Diana Hutts-Aston’s newest title in her exquisite series— A Beetle is Shy— I thought it would be an opportune time to celebrate all my favorite beetle books.

Listen, I don’t love bugs. Especially not ones that venture into my house. But I do love a few other things that make this subject worth pursuing, namely trivia, art, science, alphabetized lists and vintage readers.  Titles in this collection cover all these areas quite well. And some of these books had me in rapt attention far beyond what I expected.  Beetle books make for excellent strewing titles since there is so much fascinating information to be found in this animal family…

beetles

 

 First, as mentioned, is the latest from the Hutts-Aston and Long duo: A Beetle is Shy.  I only own ONE of the books in this series, but as a homeschooler and as a curious human being, I hope to acquire all of them someday.  Each one is a graphic feast and beetles are no exception. Couple the facts, lovely text and gorgeous art, and this is a book you will want to pass on to your children some day…

Jerry Pallota is an alphabet wizard. He loves creating alphabetized lists too and has a wonderful line of books covering a broad range of subjects.  The Beetle Alphabet Book delivers large, colorful images and excellent nuggets of trivia for every letter of the alphabet,

 

This book is what kickstarted my beetle fascination.  It had me delighted for the better part of an hour with its beautiful illustrations (stink bugs are beautiful people!) and curious facts.  Did you know that 1 in 5 every living being is a BEETLE?!?  Isn’t that just riveting?!

 

P.D. Eastman is at his finest in this old tale about mischief being righted.  The wee firefly causes mayhem with his messages he lights up around the sky until a wise old owl corrects him… you really can’t improve on some of these old reader books.

 

I admit it. The only reason we love The Grouchy Ladybug (other than it being by Eric Carle) is that it lends itself so well to the arbitrary bully voice that I like to inject whenever possible into stories: “Hey you, wanna fight?” Yes, it teaches manners and how nice it is to share… fine. But I’m not really into stories for the moralizing. I just like to frolic along the pages with different voices.

Dung beetles.  Behold. This is one of the rare times that I break my rule on entertaining “potty humor” in picture books.  And that’s only because it’s educational to learn about how these unfortunately named beetles are able to survive and thrive off of the excrement of animals. Very well done!

 

Here is the classic book that’s listed on most bibliophile’s “Best Summer Picture Books” lists.  The evocative tale of trying to capture the magical light of fireflies and the consequences that come of it. Fireflies and ladybugs are probably the most (and the only) well loved beetles out there…

 

Gail Gibbons has just never failed me yet. Ladybugs, like all of her informational titles, offer just enough information to engage children without overwhelming them.  Perfect for leaving on the back of a toilet for a child to pick up and read! Ha!

 

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is one of Carle’s lesser known titles but I think it’s just as much fun as his more popular ones. Follow along with the the beetle as he figures out how to the nail the landing on his click-jump.

 

What would one of my Top Ten lists be without an exception?  This isn’t strictly a picture book… more of a coffee-table book actually. But it. is. stunning. If you ever doubted that the world of beetles and bugs could be a beautiful world, this is the book for you. Pheromone is a magnum opus. Check out author Christopher Marley’s website for a taste of what he does.  This book would be an excellent inspiration to budding artists everywhere…

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Top Ten Picture Books for Grownups

pbadultWhether you need an unusual gift for the person who has everything, or you just want to regress into a simpler mode of making sense of the world… or if you suspect you’re needing a little bit of bibliotherapy (yes, it’s a thing!)… this list is for you. I’ve included a little bit of everything, the sweet, the sentimental, the funny, the thoughtful and the macabre… all are treasures in their own way.

6ecf6b6f53cd5594292f75d8528072adI’ve often said that picture books aren’t just for kids. C.S. Lewis famously said so too. But in this genre, there is an ability to harness the universality of human experience on a level all too often dismissed as juvenile. There is nothing exclusively juvenile about these books and indeed, any one of them would make for a fine, literary cuppa to pause and savor your day.

 

 The Giving Tree I’m pretty sure this would be a universal listing on ANY “picture books for adults” list otherwise they are seriously deficient. It’s the classic tale that can touch even the most shriveled up raisin of a heart I’m sure…

 The Lion and the Bird is one of those treats that demonstrate the actually complex decision-making process artists and publishers go through to create a perfect book. There is so much more to having a good story and nice pictures. Considerations have to include font, sizing, white space allowed etc.  The Lion and the Bird is a subdued, sparse telling of friendships found and lost and found again. A beautiful, beautiful book. Reminds me of the quote: “Distance is to love what wind is to fire— it extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.”

 Mrs. Biddlebox has been purchased and wrapped up for me to give my own sweet mother for Mother’s Day this year. Not only will my mother find the story a riot—how one disgruntled woman turns her bad day around and bakes it into a cake!— but the illustrations just screamed my mother all over it.  Perfect humor to offer someone going through a series of irritable days.

 Sidewalk Flowers is probably my favorite book of 2015. Like many other wordless books, this one crosses all age boundaries to reach a wide audience… especially those who have or who aspire to have a childlike heart. It’s a story of small actions having big consequences.  A tiny reminder of how “Beauty will save the world…”  (Dostoevsky) and a book I wish I could give to all my dear friends…

 Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World: is a book for word lovers. For culture lovers. For curious humans. It’s a lovely little book to leave lying about on a coffee table or in the bathroom or to open up and feature a new page on a daily basis. The book features words that can’t accurately translate in other languages… but the concepts are universal and the connection felt when reading the the word is unmistakable. So much fun to look at…

 Our favorite, absurd, childish author/illustrator—Oliver Jeffers— has created the most poignant book for adults in The Heart and the Bottle. It’s a book about losing someone you love or who’s had a big impact on your life… and then locking your heart up. How to figure out a healthy way to become vulnerable again, to loving again…  a beautiful book that helps people grapple with loss or grief.

 The Arrival is one of those books you just need to see and spend time with. Not only is Shaun Tan an exquisite artist but he is clearly insightful about human nature because his book dives deep into the experience of what it means to be human… albeit in a very approachable and unique way.  This book would be perfect not only for immigrants, but those who’ve ever had to uproot and move to a new area and get used to a new community or sub-culture where they felt completely lost.  An excellent and evocative wordless tale…

 The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz is the book to give people needing a healthy dose of gratitude in their lives… for those who maybe don’t realize how good they’ve got it or who keep thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.  It’s the classic folktale of searching far and wide for a treasure that can only be discovered at home.

 If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.  This was the first picture book I ever received as a gift when I was NOT a young child.  In fact, it was a gift for my 16th birthday from a teacher/mentor at the time.  I treasured it deeply and still do. Eden’s artwork carries an ironic sophistication for being such simple, colored pencil drawings.  And the message of hope and whimsy are perfect for people needing any sort of encouragement in their lives.

 Here it is: The Gashlycrumb Tinies, the book listing that my readers will love or hate me for. In short: it’s an alphabetical book of childrens’ demise. How many different ways can people meet their death?  Some are horrified at the idea of such a dark topic being in a picture book.  I get it. We want to protect children. But I also want my children to have a healthy, light conceptualization of death. If one is in the state of grace, it SHOULD be laughed at!  If your sensibilities are offended by this, that’s okay. This is a list of books for adults anyway. Most children would pick up Gorey’s book and laugh their way through it, not taking it too seriously that Maud was swept out to see or Kate was struck with an axe. I honestly think children make sense of the world through a light handling of certain darker themes. Some children are more sensitive of course and discretion should be used. But unlike some reviewers, I don’t think this book is just feeding into a warped, sociopathic delight of pain or dying. I think it’s simply a book… and a clever one at that… that makes for funny, interesting reading. I would readily give it to many of my adult brothers, friends or priest. Yep. I think it’s obvious that this book isn’t for everyone… but it is for some.  And it does offer a steady balance to what are otherwise thoughtful, lovely, or prosaic titles in this list!

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Okay, that’s all for now. I’m going to have a baby any day now so I’ll catch you on the flip-side!

 

 

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Top 10 Summer Family Read Alouds

While picture books are my bread and butter, all families should be reading aloud longer chapter books with their children.  With summer peeking over the horizon now, it’s a good time to plan out your summer read-aloud(s).  Reading as a family, morning, noon or at night, is an excellent way to stay connected with all the activities of a freewheeling summer.  Audio books make for a superb option as you are road tripping. And certain books are just perfect for this warm season in particular…  here are my choices for optimal summer reading that the whole family will enjoy:

 It’s a classic for a reason. The four siblings are slightly more grounded in this world than the Narnia children, but the similarities are still there.  I was unsure that my children would really get into the fairly descriptive, not-exactly-cliff-hangar-chapters, but they ate it up! Sailing, adventure, independent children soaking up summertime bliss. Something about Ransome’s style just weaves enough magic into the story to make a solid impression on children aged 7-13 in this house! The only unfortunate thing is that while this book makes its way on lots of “best of” lists, not a lot of people make efforts to continue the series; the books are a bit lengthy… but so worth it.  We are knee deep into the sequel: Swallowdale in our family and loving every bit of it.

Don’t be mislead by the sweet cover. While it’s tempting to want to curl up with your 5 year old daughter with this for a cute innocent adventure (try Milly-Molly-Mandy for that), the book is admittedly best suited for slightly older children… maybe age 10 or so. Feuding and intrigue and happy endings… all taking place in the heat of the south. Grab some iced tea and enjoy!

So, it sounds like a Roald Dahl comedy: boy finds a bunch of monkeys who escaped from a circus train.  A large reward goes to whomever can return them to the owner.  But the book isn’t a funny book by design. It’s full of adventure and suspense and for the sake of all that is good, do NOT get the paperback version which has a photograph of the boy on the cover. Photograph covers on books constitute a cardinal sin in my opinion (more on cardinal publishing sins to come)—no room is left for a child to form his own personal impression in their own minds; photograph covers ruin imaginations! Anyway, it’s a great book!

We love Homer Price in this family!  He is just the bee’s knees if you asked my boys and easy, independent chapters of his adventures back in the ‘good ol’ days’ will be perfect for lazy summer reading… don’t forget the sequel! Light, enjoyable reading at its finest.

Boys only please (okay, I would’ve read and loved them as a tomboy ‘tween but your mileage may vary).  These guys have a clubhouse, impressive IQs and adventures galore that would fill your child’s brain with plain old good stuff during summertime.


Summertime is E.B. White time!  This is the time to bust out the glorious, early chapter books to your 5 and 6+ year olds.  Be it Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan… all are so perfectly suited to long, slow summer days.  I re-read Stuart Little recently with my children and was reminded again at how unique White is in the children’s literature world: the ending is moving and poignant… but not your typical super-happy, loose ends tied up conclusion. Same with Charlotte’s Web now that I think about it. I remember feeling sad at the dear little spiders floating away to find their place in the world… (even though I can only WISH that spiders in my house would float away…)

Oh my! Oh my! Have you seen the “Puffin in Bloom” collection yet?! The covers are stunning!  Yeah, yeah, Heidi is fantastic summertime reading (watch out for the photograph covered editions, blech!). What could be greater than the Alps and a wild child and new friendships?! But seriously, check out this new cover by artist Anna Bond.  And there’s a whole set of them coming soon!  What a stunning gift even an individual title would make here.  Take a look at the individual covers here.

Often called “The boy’s Little House series”, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is great for boys and girls in my opinion.  And this title is where it all starts. And let me tell you: these stories are so incredibly satisfying for both parent and child. There is just enough of a hat tip to adult sensibilities to make these books fantastic for everyone.  I bought it on audio and we listened to it on our way to a camping trip last year.  So, so, so good. A must have for anyone who loves the value of hard work, simple humor, and excellent storytelling.

But of course!

Back in print! Back in print!  I’m so excited to find The Happy Hollisters revived in popularity. What is so lovely about this family of five children who get mixed up into lots of little mysteries and adventures is that they are always positive and fun. I devoured almost the entire series of these books when I was about 10 or so and longed for more titles. My cousin and I used to spend hours reading together, pretending we were just reading them to make fun of the funny, vintage language some kids used (“Gee whillakers!”) but that’s because we thought we were too cool to actually enjoy the fun in these books.  Thankfully, my children don’t think they are too cool for these books and they are eating up every copy I manage to acquire. They are all great reading, don’t need to be read consecutively, and some particularly summery titles are The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach

 

* * * The Honorable Mention “Next 10″or “After Further Thought” Additions to this list. * * *

 

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Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher’s offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child’s hands… and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing… NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you’ll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you’re offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn’t love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times…

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I’d go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle’s New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn’t have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it’s on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite “nonsensically profound” books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding…

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story… don’t forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it’s still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That’s enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can’t help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me… I’ve seen enough good stuff now to warrant “Volume 3” version of Top Ten Alphabet books… hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let’s Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It’s very fun to read with a 5 year old…

 The Little Train… or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

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And now, some qualifying remarks:


I would’ve included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I’m mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it… but don’t skip the letter altogether!


Also, these are slightly larger than ‘tiny’, but of immense importance in the picture book collector’s world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish… in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.


And lastly, I’ve requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone’s cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!

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Top Ten Best Authors for Media Saturated Kids

Maybe you want to give a child a book for a gift but you are worried that the book will get tossed into a pile of irrelevancy in favor of Junior’s tablet or the new video game his much cooler aunt bought him.  Maybe your own child has been fed too many cartoons on the tube.  It’s okay; I won’t tell. (I’m not proud of how much “e-living” happens in my own home, after all.) But now, our media saturated children are rather uninterested in the written word— especially when it competes with flashy animations. After all, you can give a kid books, but you can’t make them like ’em… much less even read them.  But I have come to give you hope! And to have it in abundance!

Before we can expect a media glutton to love the beauty of simple things like Make Way for Ducklings or Stone Soup, we have to ease them into the transition of still life and still ink on still paper.  In response to this need for a segue, publishers have been printing a bloated genre of books that supposedly children will love but typically parents hate. These generally include sharp, digital illustrations, flatulence, underpants, aliens and/or mucous emissions. I suppose the idea is that the shock value of these things will get kids reading. Toilet humor—especially to boys— is highly appealing.  So the battered down, desperate parent feels it’s their only hope to get Junior interested in books.  It’s not the only hope… but I’m not going to lie and say that you can just give a child a classic book and expect them to swoon over it.  This is very much like very picky eaters who’ve been given too much junk food and refuse all their vegetables. Once the intellectual appetites have been soiled (in this case by too much electronic stimulation) it is very difficult to reorder it to enjoying the wholesome books. Difficult… but not impossible. The first thing to do is eliminate or drastically limit media of course.  Otherwise, no matter how good your intentions, books will always lose to the drug inducing power of TV (video games are even more destructive to cultivating readers). Then, find some good books to introduce.

Thankfully, there are a number of excellent authors out there who are especially well suited to “reordering appetites.”  Think of them as a good probiotic or something… replenishing the gut with good bacteria (all right enough of the food analogies). Like all my Top Ten lists, this isn’t an exclusive compilation; there are certainly other books and authors that would make for great transitions. The things to look for are humor, weird or unexpected plots, interesting typeset, detailed pictures, and/or novel or irresistible concepts.  Believe it or not, these things can be found without resorting to pooping, iPad wielding aliens in underwear.

After the child has been fed a good diet of these transitional books, they can slowly move onto realizing that there are some true delights to be found in picture books and they’ll want to explore more—even ones with less catchy covers.

So here is my list of the authors to look out for once you decide to move away from media and into the glory of the printed word.

Chris Van Dusen. Van Dusen has the most excellent illustrations to captivate an unsuspecting media glutton. His style LOOKS animated and he’s got a superb natural rhyming that fits all his books so well. If I Built a House would make for a perfect “starting over” book to try and hook kids into the adventures in reading.  And  Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit also has really big appeal. Be sure to also read all the Mr. Magee stories too!

David Weisner.  Weisner is the wordless book master and as we all should know by now, wordless books are not just for kids. Tuesday is his classic tale of bizarre flying frogs but Sector 7 and all his other titles certainly shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle either.  These books are great ones for bored children to just “discover” lying about on an end table somewhere.


Lynley Dodd.  Dodd isn’t so well known in the states for some reason but her Hairy Maclary is quite well known in her New Zealand homeland and elsewhere.  ALL of her books are great.  She has an extraordinary talent for rhyming and for made-up words that just roll off you tongue with delight.  These books are best read aloud and with enthusiasm to capture the full cadence.

Oliver Jeffers. A favorite among boys especially.  Don’t be fooled by Jeffers youthful, simple illustrations—he has an uncanny perception of what is funny and how children think.  I’ve discussed before about my favorite title of his This Moose Belongs to Me, but my children adore Stuck and also The Day the Crayons Quit which he illustrated.

Richard Scarry.  Everyone knows Richard Scarry by now right?!  His characters should be well known in any childhood.  But there is a golden window of opportunity for introducing Scarry to the recovering couch potatoes—and it’s probably only up to age 7 by my estimates because he is aimed toward the younger set. What makes books like What Do People Do All Day so interesting is their very busy-ness. Scarry is fantastic at creating little stories within the story with funny side pictures or car crashes etc.

Chris Van Allsburg. Where Scarry appeals to younger kids, Van Allsburg specializes in the slightly older demographic. And you have to be careful at first because his tales of mystery won’t automatically attract the flies.  You have to start with something peculiar and ever so slightly morbid like The Z Was Zapped— where the demise of alphabet letters is chronicled in a fascinating way. Then go to Two Bad Ants before moving into his more sophisticated works.

Jerry Pallotta. Pallotta gets included in this list for his very high score on the “strewing” factor. He manages to come up with excellent, informative compilations that a kid can’t help wanting to crack open. Even when a child has passed the ideal age for alphabet books, he can’t help but wonder what’s in something like The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book, The Skull Alphabet Book or his intriguing Who Would Win Series like Polar Bear Vs. Grizzly Bear.  Boys love Pallotta.

Mo Willems. I’ll be honest… I didn’t get the hype about Mo at first. I thought his debut title Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was silly and overly simplistic when I first saw it.  But the masses have overwhelmingly defied this blogger’s opinion and Mo has since written a bunch of other books that I really like much better.  When it comes to feeding media-hungry kids though, it doesn’t really matter if MY tastes are satisfied (so long as they aren’t offended), kids know what they like and Willems knows what to do. He is a great segue author. The typeset is excellent, short and appealing. And his characters, while simply drawn are engaging to the max. Begin with We Are in a Book! which, if read in an engaging manner, is rather hilarious even to the adult. Other titles are just funny enough to draw in even the most reluctant souls: Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.

William Steig. Steig is one of those quirky authors that you’ll find on a lot of unrelated lists: best authors for boys, funniest authors, classic authors not to miss, and on. If you asked me my favorite, I’d say it was Doctor De Soto, but if you’re looking to ease kids into books, a more obvious choice is something like Pete’s a Pizza or the puzzling C D C ?

Sesyle Joslin. You want shock value mixed with vintage? Pick Joslin. Buried in the fantastically brilliant book on teaching manners from the late fifties, Joslin comes up with things to offend today’s PC parents. In What Do You Say, Dear?, parents get horrified that the character says “Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?” I don’t really see the big deal.  The kids politely declines: “No, thank you.” This book and its companion What Do You Do, Dear? are a riot of unpredictability. Highly recommended.

 
 
We need desperately, I feel, a noncommercial alternative to what commercialism is trying to do to us. I’m not for censorship, but I’m certainly for self-censorship when it comes to producing or purveying products to America’s children. I think that for people who make anything for children, their first thought should be: Would I want my child to see, hear or touch this? And if the answer is no, just don’t make it.
-Mr. Rogers
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Butterfly Bonanza: a Top Ten List

Yesterday, we just celebrated a butterfly-themed birthday with my 5 year old.  I never do birthday themes, but after my mother-in-law gave her a lovely butterfly dress and I purchased the excellent Live Butterfly Garden… we decided to go ahead and make a butterfly cake and call it a theme.

This of course led to me thinking about all my favorite butterfly books since the tail end of June is just when our weather starts to think about heating up a bit around here and fluttery creatures can finally be seen in earnest… so here’s my vote of Top Ten Butterfly Books in no particular order:

A bright and colorful starter book. The novelty factor in turning different sized pages helps engage kids. I like the very basic ID primer to butterflies and the flowers they like in the back.

One of Kleven’s newer books, this continues to offer her typical feast for the eyes with a sweet lost and found story about a glass-wing butterfly—(a real creature!).
A lovely, nostalgic memory put into picture book form
Studying the Middle Ages? Scientists?  This is an excellent, easy biographical story for very young readers on how our understanding of the natural world has changed for the better, partially through the work of Maria Merian.
An exquisite photographic journey through the alphabet that will awe young and old alike; one of my very favorite alphabet books.
Sublime illustrations… truly.

I love the size of this book.  It is a great mix of story and information Meilo So‘s art is really the standout.

One of the four gorgeous books that this author has made in this series; these are the ideal “strewing” books.
Not a lot of older Jack Kent books are still in print, much to the dismay of his cult followers.  But this one is!  It’s a silly, simple story of a smug caterpillar changing into a butterfly much to the confused amazement of a polliwog who does some changing himself.
I would hope that this one is a given… I prefer it in board book myself.  


And these are the titles of a few more books I’ve just requested from the library to check out; butterflies are a prolific genre of bug!

Gotta Go! Gotta Go!
Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors
Wings of Light: The Migration of the Yellow Butterfly  (update: very nice book following the tale of migration)

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Top 10 Wordless Picture Books

This article was originally written for and printed in the Spring 2012 issue of Soul Gardening Journal. I have since substituted in two titles (listed at the end) that came to my attention and taken out the original listings for The Silver Pony about which I had this to say: “This is a sort of strange, magical book that might not be guaranteed to win everyone’s hearts… but its peculiarity won mine.  I love the old fashioned, black and white sketches here.”  

And also I removed Rainstorm, originally saying this: “Barbara Lehman is more well known for her Caldecott honored The Red Book but this one tickles me just a bit more.  A young, well-to-do boy feels the restlessness and boredom of a rainy day before finding a magic key that offers him a magic portal into his imagination.  There’s something clean about Lehman’s illustrations that make her a refreshing read.”

Finally, I gave a shout out to one of my very favorite Christmas books ever: A Small Miracle and would also add The Snowman.

Willfully Wandering Wordless: A Top Ten List

Some of my very favorite picture books are completely devoid of words.  I used to sort of smile and write (no pun intended) these kinds of books off as novelties without any real sort of lasting merit.  But as my bookshelf space shrunk and my exposure to children’s literature grew, I was proven wrong… very, very wrong.
Wordless picture books can be an excellent vehicle for pre-readers who want to “read” books like big brother/sister.  They can serve beautifully for creative narration prompts too.  Instead of playing the memory game and asking your child “Okay, what was the story about”… to which they promptly regurgitate a couple of quoted sections word-for-word to show that they’ve been listening, kid’s are forced to tell a story in entirely their own words.  In the wordless world, it’s all about attention to the details, to sequencing, to the art of what’s happening.  Many are written in comic book fashion which gets little ones used to the concept of left to right to down directional reading.  Teachers have often used wordless books for question prompts to creative thinking: “What do you think he’s looking for?”  “Why might she be feeling sad?” etc.  Since none of the answers are ‘given away’ with text, even shy children might open up with some interesting interpretations.
With regards to wordless books in this family, my children take a few different approaches that are refreshingly different from the reactions I get with traditional picture books. My five year old son likes to take a wordless book off to a corner by himself and study it through.  Then he asks me to “read a story with him” which entails us sitting on the couch together while he tells me everything that’s going to happen on the next page.  He gets a giddy delight out of finally being the one in the know with a book, while I am simply the willing audience to his interpretation.  My seven year old boy does a great deal of personification in his life.  If he sees an image he likes with just enough figures for our family, he promptly names us all.  I am honored to have been labeled an ant, a banana, a Chinese spinster, and a flying frog among other things.  With wordless books, he’s in hog heaven describing who’s who and bringing in all the people from his real world into the story with unnamed characters.  My nine year old boy is a bit more like me with the wordless books.  He just curls up somewhere with a blanket and reads it quietly to himself, slowly turning the pages and letting his eyes feast on the artwork. The canvas is totally blank when it comes to these kinds of stories and imaginations can run wild.  Here is a Top Ten list of my very favorite wordless books, though it really is cruel to limit myself in this wonderful genre:

 The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This book is stunning and the artwork will weave you right into its spell.  I spent the better part of an hour reading this book by myself; it is living proof that picture books aren’t just for kids. I’d happily keep this surrealistic story of an immigrant on my coffee table.  While it was fun to go through with my children, the message really can be quite profound for adults too.

 Peter Spier’s Rain. A perfect springtime book full of lovely, poetic imagery.  Peter Spier is one of those wonderful authors that the world seems content to forget.  So many of his gems (some others are wordless also) are out of print and I curdle my nose in disgust sometimes to think of some the fodder that’s replacing his books at stores everywhere.

 Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.  Get all of Anno’s books; you won’t regret it!  This book doubles as a superb and innovative counting book with folky artwork that I adore. Anno’s Journey is another title in this category that is a lot of fun to follow with children.

 Tuesday by David Wiesner. Wiesner is the master of the wordless genre.  While we love his Flotsam, Sector 7 and Free Fall too, this book about flying frogs (yep, that’s me!) on an adventure in the middle of the night wins my boys over every time.  These pictures are feast-worthy indeed.

 The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Now Pinkney was fortunate here in that the story was already provided for him– remember that fable from Aesop about the mouse who helps out the lion?  Pinkney just happens to be an incredible artist who took this story for a beautiful spin in 2009 with the release of this book.

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. My very first introduction to wordless books was this one.  I love the size; I love the limited color scheme. I love all the sequels to this book. I have to admit that I came into it biased because Mercer Mayer illustrated my all-time, very favorite series of childhood chapter books–The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald– and I was delighted to see this kind of art again. One way to sneak out of the limiting Top Ten is to throw out other titles to reference by the same author. In this case, I’d point you to a very recent fun title by Mayer called Octopus Soup.
 The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. How refreshing!  Are you studying Shakespeare?  Add this to your unit to round out all the romantic, poetic imagery of the man.  Here a contemporary boy gets lost on a stage hosting the Bard himself who becomes enraged at the interruption and chases the boy through old London.  The great thing about graphic novels is that you get lots of bonus perspectives to complete the comic book boxes… so an extreme close up of Shakespeare’s face or a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city fill out the pages quite nicely.

 Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  Baker is a collage artist and she uses an assortment of materials, fabric and natural foliage to construct this very novel book.  It is testament again that wordless stories aren’t just for preschoolers; in fact I think you’d really need to be about eight years old at least to really appreciate what’s going on here.  When you open this book you have two stories side by side on each side the outside covers, so you are flipping pages from the inside binding to show the daily lives of an Australian child and a Morrocan child.  It’s a beautiful social studies lesson on the uniqueness of two very different cultures but the same threads of family, meals, and home life bind us all together.  Jeannie Baker is also well known for her other wordless story called Home which will be one of the subjects for some other season in this Book Basket column as I explore a couple of books that reflect on urban relationships.

Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson is a gorgeous and fun tale of words coming to life. I wrote about it a couple years ago: “The book a feast of imagery from the first person perspective as we see artist’s hands draw the magpie outside her window.  As any good story book would have it, the bird then comes to life and what happens next is a witty sort of duel between the bird and artist which ends in a very satisfactory way.” 

 Journey by Aaron Becker is one of the very best books of 2013.  There is something about the wordless genre that lends itself perfectly to fanciful travels or surreal experiences.  This book is that. A girl goes on an incredible journey in a very similar way to Harold did in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Exquisite details in this thoughtful book.

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The Christmas Motherload: Ten “Top 10” Booklists

So I’ve been working on this post bit by bit, over the last several weeks. I exhausted my library with holds several times (had my own CART next to the holds shelf at one point) and I even visited my family in another city and had my sister get another armload of Christmas books that my own library system didn’t carry.  I was also able to make a few book purchases (of stories I was CERTAIN we’d love) for upcoming Christmas gifts. And finally I was happily surprised to randomly find a few YouTube video readings of a couple of these title too! So through it all, I’ve compiled my very favorites. Maybe only 50% of these were ones I already knew and loved. The other 50% were looked at for the first time by me… gleaned from ideas on message boards and booklists I had seen as well as plenty from rabbit trails from internet searches. What an inundated book genre!!!

Why did I do it?  It’s not like I pretend to be the voice of expertise in children’s literature; there are dozens of picture book blogs out there and many other well-read folks who can offer counsel on Christmas books too. Frankly these are just my opinions. And my opinions are formed on an appreciation of living, loving and breathing children’s books for a dozen years now. I blog about children’s books because I have to write about something.  I don’t write about my own life and kids anymore, either via blogs or Facebook… it’s too much of a temptation for me in a number of ways. And I write for Soul Gardening but that doesn’t take care of wanting to share my obsessions and opine about books all the time! So I have this blog… and it’s a fix for me. And these lists are basically for my own records really… and to sate my own obsession with categorizing things. This blog is for my children to find someday and remember and smile… and maybe even roll their eyes (with affection I hope). But I digress.

Many Christmas books are just plain not worth your time. And many, many more fall solidly into the “good” category. And on top of that, there is the GREAT category! And even that’s full! I couldn’t have possibly put it into one Top Ten list; who could?! So I broke it up into TEN different categories of Ten. And even that was hard! This doesn’t even include my Advent or Epiphany picks! Anyway, I’m such a nerd; I loved every minute of my ‘research’!  Enjoy these opinions of just one mama/biblio-zealot. Know that there are dozens and dozens more EXCELLENT Christmas stories out there and I’m sure I’ll be finding new treasures all the time!  I wanted to be a purist to the number 10, so I limited it.  My comments will be brief; I’ve got 100 books to tell you about and many of you probably know about many of these already! But my very special favorites are in bold.

2014 modifications are in magenta; the year introduced me to new books and ‘new-to-me’ old ones!  
Best Actual Nativity Stories

  1. The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes: A very special treat to pull out on Christmas Eve.  Truly a delight for your eyes! If only it were back in print!
  2. Bethlehem: Fiona French’s stained glass illustrations to the simple Bible words of the Nativity.
  3. The Story of Christmas: Jane Ray does outstanding, vivid illustrations (love that Mary and Joseph look ethnically believable) and surprise… baby Jesus was breastfed!
  4. The Christmas Story: Here’s one for cheapskates! The classic, basic, no-frills-but-still-sweet Golden Book version of the Nativity, illustrated by one of my favorites— Eloise Wilkin.
  5. The Christmas Story: The beautiful, biblical text illustrated by the incomparable Gennady Spirin.
  6. The Story of Christmas: Pamela Dalton takes the words from the King James Bible and masterfully weaves intricate, beautiful paper-cut illustrations into it. My husband calls Dalton’s people “hobbits” but I don’t fault her for that. I like hobbits! I do however bristle at the 80 year old, balding Joseph in the story. (Mary was a teenager after all; I can handle middle aged Joseph depictions—though I prefer envisioning younger, strapping man… but the great-grandfatherly representation? Not my favorite.) Anyway, if you liked her Brother Sun, Sister Moon, you’ll love this.
  7. The Nativity: Completely scriptural, this is better for slightly older children, or to be used as an actual family reading on the night of Christmas Eve. I love how the wise men show up (accurately) at the Holy Family’s HOUSE, rather than stable.
  8. The Nativity: Mary Remembers: What I like best about this is its first person perspective from Mary. This helps to give a fresh insight on some of what happened that blessed night.
  9. The Christmas Story: This is the very simple Bible story presented again; it gets a spot on this list for the beautiful few, full-page spreads of Christmas night… and the end picture of Jesus who “grew in grace.”  I do wish illustrators made the Holy Family a little more Middle Eastern looking but we take what we can get I suppose.
  10. The First Noel: A Christmas Carousel: This isn’t exactly a story… it’s a novelty book that serves as a stand-alone centerpiece.  The book folds out and can be tied together to form a 3D standing star. Gorgeous paper-cut, pop-ups highlight the five major scenes from the Nativity.
  11. The Christ Child.  Perfect. I’m so happy to have found this for 50 cents at the thrift store. It is simple, biblical and timeless.  I love it, a new favorite!
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Christmas StoryChristmas in the Barn —the original version, The First Christmas, My Son, My Saviour: The Awesome Wonder of Jesus’ Birth)

Best Light Reading or Funny Stories

  1. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree:  My children cheer whenever we open up this book.  Light, amusing and completely satisfying!
  2. The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher:  Much like the Grinch story. Will Christmas be the same without cookie sprinkles?!
  3. Too Many Tamales: Sweet story about a careless child.  Makes me want to have the patience and grace of the mother when dealing with children’s mistakes… also makes me want to have a ton of tamales!!!
  4. The Lump of Coal: So clever. This is a hilarious little book that will delight older children especially and the adult reading it with them.
  5. Cranberry Christmas: Back in print! Vintage, cartoony in the right kind of way and fun as always!
  6. Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?: Jan Brett dials up another beautiful book and this one is sure to win the hearts of polar bear lovers!
  7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Is there ANY Christmas book list complete without this one?!
  8. Mortimer’s Christmas Manger: Karma Wilson’s best book since Bear Snores On.  Great fun, vibrant pictures, a satisfying ending… excellent all around.
  9. Christmas Alphabet: I generally avoid pop-up books. But I can’t be a complete scrooge and what better time of year to really allow a special, magical book be enjoyed (gently!) by children?!
  10. The Night Before Christmas. This was just released again this year and of ALL the editions of this famous rhyme, this one is my very favorite. There is something perfect about a vintage poem paired with vintage illustrations. And the dimensions of the actual book are kind of a fun novelty too.

(other books I want to check out in this category: Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up BookShall I Knit You a Hat?: A Christmas Yarn, One Thousand Christmas Beards)

Best Reverent Christmas Stories:

 

  1. Father and Son: A Nativity Story: This is an excellent and novel book offering perspective on St. Joseph’s Christmas night… he ponders the irony of being father to the Master of the Universe.  So good!
  2. All for the Newborn Baby: I’m so in love with this book!  I love the sweet text, the lovely illustrations and the little details of nature/botany in the margins!
  3. Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story: This isn’t the usual, classic, elegant book one would expect in this category but I really love it.  All of creation readies for the newborn Savior: “It’s time!” Really nicely done…
  4. A Small Miracle: Two of my sons’ favorite Christmas book of all time!  This one’s wordless so it’s great for non-readers too. So lovely…
  5. There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve: A very simple story that begs to be read slow and somber… great reminder for folks who live where there is no snow and may feel disenfranchised from all the traditional Christmas scenery.
  6. The Donkey’s Dream:  Hands down, my very favorite Christmas book of all time. Enough said.
  7. The Miracle of St. Nicholas: Of all my Christmas books, this absolutely would be in my Top Three. I love the art. I love the story. I love the reverence and focus on the season. And I especially love the mini history lesson that can happen with this story.
  8. The Little Boy’s Christmas Gift: A little poor boy follows the procession of people bringing beautiful gifts to the newborn Jesus.  His is merely one of the first examples we see of “up-cycling”in a picture book. Beautifully illustrated.
  9. The Legend of the Poinsettia: Lucida searches and frets over having the perfect gift for the baby Jesus but feels like she’s coming up short. Little does she know how God will reward her best of intentions. Another version of this story is also done really well in The Miracle of the First Poinsettia.
  10. A Christmas Story: Brian Wildsmith never disappoints with his artwork and this little story about a girl trying to reunite a donkey with his mother is very sweet.  Not quite as memorable/glorious as Wildsmith’s Easter Story but still worth picking up!
(other books I want to check out in this category: One Small Lost SheepThe Shepherd’s Christmas StoryMary’s Song)

Best Christmas Stories Specific to Already Famous Literary Characters:

  1. Petunia’s Christmas: Petunia gets married!  But not before having some very funny and touching adventures in saving her beloved gander…
  2. Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear: In the same type of narration and spirit as the original; Wood’s pictures never fail to delight.
  3. An Otis Christmas: Bright, vibrant and always fun— Otis saves the day and a new baby (calf) is born!
  4. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona: Good old Strega Nona gets ready for Christmas Eve… makes for great Advent reading too!
  5. Carl’s Christmas: Carl lovers won’t be disappointed in another adventure filled (wordless) day spent with Carl on Christmas Eve. (Try to overlook the fact that the baby is left alone in the care of a dog…)
  6. Merry Christmas, Curious George: Just what we’d expect from this mischievous monkey: curious bumbles and a happy ending.
  7. Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve: My daughter’s very favorite chicken confronts the jolly, red “Mr. Farmer” up on top of the roof.
  8. Merry Christmas Ernest & Celestine: Ernest and Celestine are new to me just this year but this duo has been around since the 1980s!  Belgiun author Gabrielle Vincent is a splendid watercolorist and I love the warm, cluttered pictures shown in these lovely, very simple stories.
  9. The Jolly Christmas Postman: The jolly postman is back delivering special Christmas letters (real letters included in pockets!) to nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters. Very fun! Would make an excellent gift!
  10. The Cowboy’s Christmas: This is everything I hoped it would be; it’s especially appropriate for the Advent season.  The Cowboy books are so, so dear! Know that his imaginary friends don’t make much sense in this story unless you have the context of his first book. I hope to collect all these books for my son. He adores them!
Best Emotionally Evocative Christmas Stories:

  1. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey: Probably on everyone’s Christmas list of favorites… for good reason.  P.J. Lynch is a masterful artist and the story is a delight. The movie is pretty worthwhile as well; we check it out from the library each year.
  2. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: A classic. An excellent story illustrated by my beloved Barbara Cooney really sets the spirit of family and life in Appalachia: so great.
  3. Light of Christmas: Beautifully staged high in the mountains, this is the story of a young boy giving up his wish to see the Christmas torch lit, to help an old man in need.  He is rewarded… and the message is a reminder to all of us adults today: “In your hurry to keep Christmas, you have forgotten Christmas.”
  4. Angela and the Baby Jesus: This is a bit like the Grinch in that it is both funny and evocative… only the former book is more light reading and this latter book is more sentimental reading. My mischievous but well-meaning daughter relates very much to Angela’s antics in this story.
  5. Christmas Day in the Morning: An excellent story to raise up men of virtue!  A boy offers up the most precious gift of all to his father.  So great…
  6. Prairie Christmas: A book on what the “spirit of the season” is really about, a sweet story on the transformation of one girl’s heart.
  7. A Christmas Gift For Mama: I absolutely love O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi… but I always remember feeling like it was just a bit too “mature” for lack of better word. There are no children in the tale; the selfless devotion is between a man and his wife. Well, A Christmas Gift for Mama is essentially the same tale, only between a girl and her widowed mother. It’s told and pictured in a lovely way and I feel like it’s more relevant to children today. Very nice story…
  8. An Orange for Frankie: Based on a true story and very, very sweet. A lovely book…
  9. Why the Chimes Rang: Told in the way mid-century stories were often told… this is a genuine and lovely tale that captures what it’s all about. Free to read at the Baldwin Project!
  10. Apple Tree Christmas: Like titles 5 and 7, this is another perfect book to embody what it means to give a truly thoughtful Christmas gift.  Beautiful illustrations…

Best Toddler Board Book Christmas Stories:

  1. Gingerbread Baby: Jan Brett shines again in the fun book! Be prepared to have children beg to make a gingerbread man (or baby!)
  2. The Crippled Lamb: This is a lovely tale about a lamb finding his place…
  3. Bear Stays Up for Christmas: Wilson’s rhyming doesn’t lose its cadence or charm in any of her books!  Here’s another sweet one from this author.
  4. Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend: Get real with your kids on who’s who regarding Santa/St. Nick. Nicely done retelling of one of the St. Nick legends.
  5. Who is Coming to Our House? The barn animals all get ready for “Someone” to come… toddler perfect.
  6. Snowmen at Christmas: Bright, vibrant illustrations and rhyming make this delightful for little ones; a sequel to the very popular Snowmen at Night.
  7. Christmas in the Manger. Simple, easy… nothing grand except that it’s child-pleasing.
  8. B Is for Bethlehem: My very favorite toddler book for Christmas-time!  Pure eye candy…
  9. Night Before Christmas: The Classic Edition: There are many editions of the famous poem on the market; the rich illustrations by Charles Santore make this one stand out.
  10. Tonight You Are My Baby: A nice perspective of the human side of Mary just savoring her newborn here: “Tomorrow you’ll be my king, tonight you are my baby.”
(other books I want to check out in this category: Christmas Carols, and Merry Christmas, Baby)
Best Historical Christmas Stories:

  1. Christmas in the Trenches: The neat, true story about the Christmas truces called on the Western Front during WW1.  It leaves you feeling bittersweet though… knowing how each side can recognize and celebrate the dignity of the other while commencing to kill anyway… the ugliest sides of war are carefully avoided though.
  2. Lighthouse Christmas: Very cool history about the Flying Santa Service: a pilot delivers Christmas packages to an isolated lighthouse keeper and his family. Circa 1929.
  3. Silent Night: The Song and Its Story:  Beautiful, beautiful book that brings you right to the circumstances surrounding the serendipitous creation of this famous song in 1818.
  4. Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber: I’m so happy to have new, fresh Christmas books still being produced year after year!  This one is brand new and an excellent choice for boys, World War II studies, and entire families in general. Really cool history photos thrown in among the story too.
  5. A Gift from Saint Francis: The First Creche: A very nice and matter of fact story of how the very first crèche came to be in 1223. There are two other books on this exact story look promising that I didn’t get a chance to look at personally: Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas and The Living Nativity.
  6. A Christmas Like Helen’s: Included because I’m in love with Mary Azarian.  And in love with the nostalgic rural lifestyle of yesteryears that I’ll never know. A beautiful book.
  7. The Christmas Tree Ship: This is “historical fiction” telling the story of the ship that brought Christmas trees to Chicago in the early 20th century.  Really lovely illustrations here…
  8. A Christmas Tree in the White House: A fun, true story from the Roosevelt era. This offers a good look at the “inside life” of a president and his six rascally children.
  9. The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree: A family is just trying to survive the Depression. In so doing, they contribute to the beginning of a national tradition.  A beautiful, beautiful book; Jim La Marche was the perfect illustrator for this story.
  10. Shooting at the Stars. This is another version out this year just like the first title on this list. A bit less sober and a bit more simplified than the other title but the same story, just a preference of versions if you had to choose one. I ended up buying this for my son to complement our WW1 studies.
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Littlest Cowboy’s Christmas, Christmas on the Mayflower

Best Christmas Stories Based on Songs:
  1. The Little Drummer Boy: Very sweet illustrations to accompany the song’s lyrics.  I admit this has a soft spot for me since I remember The Little Drummer Boy as being my mother’s favorite Christmas song and Ezra Jack Keats renders it beautifully.
  2. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin is pure loveliness. But tied for first place is the version done by Laurel Long, which is just a visual feast on every page. Another good one (that I like in the board book format) is The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett.  Collectors of all things Brian Wildsmith should know that he also has a beautiful one and so does Jane Ray.
  3. The Huron Carol: Illustrated lyrics to the famous carol that St. Jean De Brebeuf wrote to explain the Christmas story to the Hurons. There is another in print version by another illustrator available too; you really can’t go wrong with either.  Haunting and beautiful.
  4. Good King Wenceslas: There are a few versions of picture books set to this song.  One that is story form (rather than just lyrics) and very nice is Stephen’s Feast.
  5. Silent Night: Just what one would expect from the sentiment this song evokes.
  6. Ding Dong! Merrily on High: Oh how I love Francesca Crespi!  Here is a gorgeous collection of carols accompanied by her outstanding pop-ups…
  7. Frosty the Snowman: Frosty the Snowman is probably the easiest Christmas song to sing along to a book. This one has bright, fresh illustrations to the classic song. And it comes with Kenny Loggins singing it!
  8. Away in a Manger: I never exactly jumped on the Thomas Kincade bandwagon but even I have to admit that the “painter of light” is perfectly suited to illustrating Christmas themes.
  9. The Nutcracker: Not exactly lyrics to a song of course as it was a ballet, but I had to include the most famous Christmas fairy tale of all and Susan Jeffers does it best.
  10. White Christmas: Good song. Bright, fantasy illustrations complete with snow fairies that look like munchkins from the Land of Oz… what else could one want? (Maybe an accompanying CD of Bing Crosby.) Michael Hague has a bit of a cult following and they can find more of his signature illustrations in his Treasury of Christmas Carols.
(other books I want to check out in this category: Away in a MangerO Come, All Ye Faithful,  Nutcracker)
Best “Just Sweet” Christmas Stories:

  1. Mousekin’s Christmas Eve: Mousekin is a Charlotte Mason-ers delight with all the beautiful depictions of the natural world. All of these books need to come back in print!  Here is a lovely analogy about the one place we can all find a home: at the foot of the manger.
  2. The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree: I bought this blindly, without knowing or hearing a single thing about it. This is a rare move for me. But after hearing the title and seeing the cover, I could not resist!  Since info on it is hard to find online, I’ll post more about it separately.
  3. Santa Mouse: (What is it about mice and Christmastime?!) This is a light and fun little story about Santa’s new helper. Little children will like it but what gets it on my list is the darling vintage, Richard Scarry-esque artwork by Elfreida De Witt.
  4. A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree: An old goat of a tree is sad that he never gets picked to be a family’s Christmas Tree.  But animals all around get together to show him how much he matters to them right where he is.
  5. The Christmas ABC: Eloise Wilkins shines her vintage Christmas artwork here. The girl reminds me of my god-daughter which is why I bought this for her this year!
  6. The Little Drummer Mouse: Mercer Mayer’s lavishly illustrated book about a little, unappreciated mouse being the one who is able to make baby Jesus happy.
  7. Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel: The sweet legend of why we decorate Christmas trees with tinsel… it might be enough to convert spider-haters.
  8. The Spider’s Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story: Eric Kimmel always does a great job with fables and legends. What I especially like is that all the emphasis isn’t just on spiders leaving a miracle on the tree, but that Christ’s birth is still emphasized and celebrated.
  9. The Candymaker’s Gift: The Legend of the Candy Cane: The lovely story behind the favorite candy that is full of symbolism and meaning.
  10. Drummer Boy. Loren Long nails these illustrations. This is the classic, lost-and-found-toy storyline. I love when sweet books are able to have a subtle hint to the true meaning of Christmas without forcing it.

Top 11 Out-of-Print Christmas Stories that I Haven’t Seen (Yet)… But Would Love to Get My Hands On!

  1. The Christmas Angel: Joan Gale Thomas wrote the very dear If Jesus Came To My House (not to be confused with the newer version with “updated” illustrations) and “A” Stands for Angel which I love (and is also highly Christmas-relevant!)  I’m certain this Christmas story from her has got to be just as lovely as all her work!  She also did If I’d Been Born in Bethlehem which I’d love to see too.
  2. How Six Found Christmas: Something is drawing me to this…
  3. The Dolls’ Christmas: Tasha Tudor and Christmas go together like peanut butter and jelly.
  4. An Edwardian Christmas: I have an affection for wordless books and this looks lovely.
  5. Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers: It’s on everyone else’s lists of great Christmas books, so it must be good!
  6. The Secret Santa of Olde Stonington: I love small town mysteries and legends…
  7. Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle: Published very recently, this book became a big hit and I’m disappointed it went out of print so quickly!!!
  8. The Christmas Cake in Search of its Owner. I went on a Roger Duvoisin appreciation kick this year and want to see more!
  9. The Christmas Forest. Same reason as above!
  10. Mother Makes Christmas.  Anything that includes Lois Lenski illustrations is a must-see in my opinion—they are so full of “the good old days” charm.
  11. A Christmas Alphabet. I love alphabet books! I love Joan Walsh Anglund! It must be a delightful pairing…
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Top Ten Classic Golden Book/Gift Combos

The best thing about Golden Books is that they are cheap!  The other excellent thing about Golden Books is that many of their classics are still in print. You have to look past much of the commercial titles at a store to find them, but they are readily available online. Books make excellent gifts for Christmas or birthdays… and children like them even better if they are accompanied by an actual toy. (For what it’s worth, I feel just the same about toys as I do about books—looking for ones that inspire play, not ones that play for them—sturdy, excellent materials that’ll last—quality over quantity). Having affordable, hardback books like the Golden ones, makes this a doable goal and here are some obvious and fun pairings I really like:

   with      
                                              The best first bath-time toy ever!

   with    
                                                  A real metal dump truck!

    with   
                                                   A high quality baby doll!

    with   
                                               Three bears wooden dress up!

   with    
                                               The plush Poky Little Puppy!

   with    
                                              Three pigs and a wolf finger puppets!

   with     
                                                 A lovely wooden animal train!

    with    
                                              Tawny Scrawny Lion cube puzzle!

    with   
                                                  A real, working stethoscope!

and the ultimate for firefighters everywhere:

   with    and
                                                     Fire chief dress up!                   The coolest ride-on toy ever!

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Top 10 Books about Books

Here is a non-typical list of Books About Books.  Most of the lists I’ve read of this nature have to do primarily with literature selection and include extensive booklists. Well this list isn’t entirely like that since I don’t have 10 whole books about booklists that I agree with 100% and would call EXCELLENT.  Instead this is simply books about books in the general sense. So read my comments carefully before putting all these books in your shopping cart; they may not be what you are looking for! These are simply my 10 favorite books about some aspect of BiblioZeal and it was quite challenging to narrow this BROAD subject down, once the topic got opened up past simply literature selection lists. So in no particular order:

 Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt.  This is one of the most oft-recommended resources for parents who are looking HOW to choose the best picture books for children…  and for good reason. It was one of my first books specifically about picture books that I ever read and includes detailed lists.

 How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. Best title ever that succinctly describes what’s in it.  All educated people should read this really well-laid-out book on how to make the most of their reading, whether it be for scholarship or delight… especially before going to college!

 Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden. A highly inspirational book to savor. This is one that is fun to let sitting about for middle-aged children to find and be encouraged in. This discusses all that you need to know in creating your own beautiful masterpieces. Could be an excellent source for gift-making. Writers aren’t just published people!

 The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. This is an absolute must-read for all parents in my opinion. It discusses WHY reading aloud is so very important in families and classrooms, examines some pretty startling statistics about what that can do for a child and will completely convict parents to NOT overlook reading aloud to even older children. I like many of the books in Trelease’s extended booklist… but don’t agree 100% about all his recommendations for quality literature. So get this book for the informational content, not for the lists in the back!


 A Picture Perfect Childhood by Cay Gibson. Now this is a book with which I CAN agree 100% on the lists included! And they are sorted in many useful ways, from great picture books for months of the year, countries of the world, virtues to teach, etc. All this plus many great notes on the goodness and importance of picture books in general make this a must have for Biblio-Zealots.

 How Picture Books Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott. I admit that most of you will want nothing to do with this book. It must of been written for a college course I think because it is pretty technical, thick reading. On picture books of all things! Still, I found it fascinating to explore different concepts of what makes some picture books successfull classics and not others. All the details about the relationship between writer and illustrator and publisher, text to picture placement, font choice… etc. There is so much going on in great picture books that the average reader doesn’t usually perceive. I would liken it to a book on cinematography… what makes a movie brilliant is the coherence of scripting, acting, camerawork, soundtrack, and on and on. The trick for successful artists and writers is to make it look simple and beautiful and enjoyable.  This book is interesting for nerds like me to pore over.

 A Landscape With Dragons by Michael O’Brien. This was the first “book about books” I ever read a good 10 years ago or so. It was really great that I found it before I really started my children’s library. O’Brien is known for his position on the importance of how Evil and Good need to be treated in literature, movies and pop-culture: everything in its proper place. When deciding on whether a story is good for children, one has to examine how things like magic and dragons and witches are treated. I love the booklists in the back of this book but many of the titles are out-of-print and hard to find. Still, it’s a good place to start when trying to define what kinds of things you’ll allow your children to be entertained by.

 For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittman. This is an incredibly useful book and I reference it often as I’m choosing books to supplement our schooling subjects. In all subjects (even math!) , there are great books for children of all ages to learn with and while I can and do make use of online resources that include much of this same information, Wittman’s book is a staple on my shelf for how it’s organized and for being… well… printed! I hate having to run to the computer every time I want an idea or resource, so this helps remedy that!

 Minders of Make Believe by Leonard Marcus. I found this book fascinating also… it’s really a history of where we’ve come as a culture in the development and publication of children’s books. I have learned a LOT by reading this and find it really interesting how many things and authors and ideas we take for granted without knowing from whence they came. Highly recommended for lovers of both children’s literature and lovers of history.

 Who Reads What When by Jane Williams. Really this compact little book is probably my favorite for a very straightforward and trustworthy resource on booklists. You can look up ages to start authors or series… or simply read the titles for each age listed. Its great appeal is in its simplicity and I enjoy having this on my shelf!

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